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Cornelia Funke's Interview Transcript

  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8

Born: 1958
Dorsten, Westphalia
GERMANY

Current Home: Los Angeles, California

On October 24 and 25, 2006, award-winning author Cornelia Funke participated in two chats with Scholastic students and teachers. Funke is the author of The Thief Lord, Dragon Rider, Inkheart, and the Wild Chicks series.

Transcript from 10/24/06:

How does writing make you feel? If you're upset, does it make you happy? 
It always makes me feel really happy and even slightly drunk! Drunk with words, of course.

When you started writing, did you think that your books would become so popular with so many people?
No, I didn't. I always hoped they would be, but you don't really expect it.

Were you inspired by any other authors?
I was inspired by every book I read — the bad ones and the good ones! 

When do you usually write?
I usually write in the mornings, from about 10:00 a.m. onwards to about 3:30 p.m. when my children come back from school.

When did you write your first book?
When I was 20. I wrote my first book because I was an illustrator, but I was awfully bored with the books I had to illustrate — so I decided to write my own story!

What was the first piece of writing that you got published?
That would be the first book I wrote, but it's not published in America — some of the themes appear again in Dragon Rider. I was lucky and had three publishers who were interested, so that was an easy start.

Do you share everything that you're writing with your children?
Yes, I absolutely do. They have great advice. Anna is almost 17, and Ben is almost 12.

Did you always want to be an author?
No, not an all — I wanted to be an astronaut first! And then a pilot, and then a thousand other professions, until I understood I was a writer.

When is the movie for Inkheart due out in theaters? How involved were you in the movie process?
I am a producer on the project and was involved in the casting. I did notes on the script, and I get to fly to Italy in November. The movie will be released in spring 2008.

Is there anything that was taken out of the Inkheart movie that you wanted to see in it?
So far, I'm very happy with the script. I'm pleased with the adaptation, but the story will be different, because you have to tell the story in just two hours.

In Inkheart, how did Capricorn and all his men plus the Shadow die and not Basta or Capricorn's mother? Also, why did some of the other men not die?
All the others died, so it's just Basta and Morta left. I think the stories still needed them, so I wrote them to come back.

Where did you get the idea for Inkheart?
I always thought I would love to do a story with characters that come alive from the book. All passionate readers know that characters in a book are more real than real people, and I wanted to write about that.

Who is Meggie, from Inkheart, modeled after? Your daughter?
The funny thing is, when I first wrote about Meggie, she was not like my daughter. But then my daughter changed as she grew up, and now she's more like the character. But I would have to say Brianna is more like my daughter than Meggie is.

Where do you get the names of your characters?
I have name dictionaries, and I scan through it until I find a good name that fits the character. I sometimes also get the names from plant dictionaries and animal dictionaries.

Is there anything in your books that is true?
Sometimes there are tiny bits, like small notes and episodes that I've stolen from real life, but most of it is fiction.

Why is Inkheart set along the Italian coast if you live in Germany?
I lived for three months with my husband and daughter in a little village in Italy. I always thought it would be a wonderful setting for a book, so I wrote about it.

How hard was it to follow up Inkheart with Inkspell? Was there a lot of pressure to make Inkspell better than Inkheart?
I first didn't want to do a follow-up. Inkheart was supposed to be just one book. But I wanted to follow these characters even further, so I told myself, "Cornelia. If you come up with a plot in two weeks, you can write a second book." And that's what I did!

How long does it take you to write a book?
A big book like Inkheart, between one to three years.

Can you tell us anything about Inkdawn?
It will mostly be set in Inkworld again. Most of the known characters will be back — there won't be many new characters. There will be a lot about the Bluejay.

What did you think of the Thief Lord movie? Do you think it was good to the book?
No, I have to admit I don't — but I liked the cast very much. I thought the grown-up characters were much better in the book. There were a lot of things different than I had imagined, but that can happen when a book is adapted into a movie.

How much planning is involved with writing a book?
For me, there's about a half a year of planning — researching, taking notes about the characters, plotting out the first 20 chapters. From an idea to finishing the book, it varies — the preparation time takes half a year if I have nothing else on my calendar.

Do you enjoy doing book signings with fans?
I absolutely do, yes!

What do you think is the hardest part of your job?
The business stuff, like contracts and negotiations — luckily I have agents for that. There are other projects that pop up, such as looking at scripts for plays, choosing readers for audiobooks, and more. There always lots of things to do, and not enough time to do them!

Do you ever get "writer's block," and if so, what advice can you give to those who do experience it?
I've never had it actually, so I can't really give any advice on that.

What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
To read, read, read! And always have a notebook with you, to write down the ideas that pop up in your head. Or else they'll disappear!

Do you have favorite authors?
At the moment, one of my favorite authors is Philip Pullman. But that's just one out of many different authors.

When you were a child, did you write at all?
No, I didn't — I mostly told stories to my brothers, but I never wrote them down.

When did you get interested in writing?
When I was illustrating many bad stories. I thought, maybe I can do that better...

What do you like better: art or writing?
Writing. I still do draw for my own books though.

What type of book is your favorite to write? A large book like Inkheart or a picture book like Pirate Girl?
Luckily, I can write anywhere — airports, waiting for a train, even walking my dog. I always have something to write down. Sometimes the best ideas come in the most unusual places. I love writing the big books, but when I have a good idea for a picture books, that's quite a treat also.

How do you gain the patience to write such long books?
Actually, when I read, I always like the books that go on and on. So that's how writing is for me also — I just never want it to end, I could write for years. I think the longer I work on a book, the more interesting it is.

Did you ever write a personal narrative in school?
As far as I remember, in German school I never had to do that. I liked writing essays where we would interpret a painting or a book.

What's your favorite topic to write about?
I don't really have a favorite topic. I like my books to be different from one another.

After Inkdawn, will you be starting another series?
I don't think so... I have a project at the moment, but it may just be one book. But you never know! The project I'm working is a ghost story, and it will be set in England.

If you could read yourself into one book what book would it be and why?
Hm... that's a tough one. I think I would like to be in The Once and Future King, by T. H. White, since it's my favorite book.

How many books have you written?
My son always counts them — I think it's more than 40! I don't have the exact number, but you can probably find it on a Web site. All the books I've written, they've been published. Many of them in German, but my American publisher is translating a lot of them into English.

I have good ideas for writing, but I can't make myself sit down and write them. Any advice?
I think you have to have patience and collect ideas about something you're really passionate about. Characters you want to talk about and that readers would want to read about. Then collect ideas for places in the book — look at photos and books about different places for inspiration. Then start collecting little things about the story and background... until you have a chest full of ideas. Then you can start writing the plot of the story, based on your ideas. When I write, I don't want to know the ending when I start — but you may find that as you write it, soon you'll have 20-30 pages! And the story sometimes tells itself after that.

How did you come up with the idea for Dragon Rider?
The idea was in my very first book already, and I developed it more and more, until it was a totally different version. My editor always said that the dragon looked like my dog. I would write about fantastic creatures, and then the people in the book.

Why did you choose rats as map makers for the dragon?
I thought it was very credible that they could hide away in the human city. I thought it was a funny idea, since they are EVERYWHERE!

Do you have any pets?
I have one dog, a biting water turtle, and two horses.

How many languages do you know?
I only know three — I can speak Italian, English, and German. My Italian is not as good as it was before. I learned English in school in Germany — every child has to learn it there.

What is your favorite color?
My favorite color is red.

You're such a great writer, how old are you?
I'm 47.

If you could live in any time in history, which would it be?
Hm... I think I would choose the Middle Ages, but it would also be a stupid idea. I've done a lot of research on the Middle Ages, and it wasn't such a great place/time for women! But I might still visit, if I could. I actually really like OUR time, I think.

What kind of creature is the Golden One in Dragon Rider?
The Golden One is a dragon that was built by an alchemist.

How long do you think Inkdawn will be?
Oh, my publishers are worrying about that already too! It won't be much longer than Inkspell, but a little longer.

Are Meggie and Farid going to still be together at the end of Inkdawn? I loved them together so much in Inkspell.
If I give this away, I'll tell too much! But I'll say this: there will be another boy...

What is your favorite place to go in the world?
I think at the moment, my favorite place in the world is Los Angeles. I've been in LA for about two years. I love the weather, that the mountains and the sea come together here, and the people. I discover new things every day that I love, so it's very exciting for me.

When you submit novels to your editor, do they come back far more mangled than you expected? I know that publishing can be a tough business, but is the original story roughly the same, or has it changed in the editing process?
Over the years, I've more and more understood that sometimes you don't always have to listen to what your editor wants. For instance, I did my own editing for The Thief Lord. It can be really tough. Most of the time, though, it's a great collaboration.

Transcript from 10/25/06:

How did you come up with Inkheart?
I always wanted to do something with the feeling that characters in books are real people. Then many, many ideas added up into the book. It was a rather complex process.

Is Inkworld supposed to be the Middle Ages or is it supposed to be a completely made-up world?
It is a completely made-up world, but it's based on the Middle Ages.

What is your view on the Inkheart movie, and how do you think it is progresssing?
It is progressing very well. I'm a producer on the project, and involved in the casting and script development. It will start shooting on November 9th in Italy. It was always clear that the only actor who could do Mo was Brendan Fraser, and the studio liked him also. I fought for him to be in the movie, and luckily he was interested. Paul Bettany was also a favorite for the role he was cast in, and the girl who is playing Meggie, Eliza, is just perfect. When I saw her tapes, I knew she'd be perfect for the role. As for the rest of the cast, the names will be "official" about next week, like Jim Broadbent as Fenoglio.

Are you going to be in the movie?
No, I don't want to be in the movie. LOL. I will just watch them do it.

Do you have mixed feelings about Inkheart being made into a movie?
Oh no, I don't. I love to see my stories being made into plays and movies. I don't mind if it's different, I love to see other artists telling my stories in different ways.

Will there be movies for Inkspell and Inkdawn?
That's planned, but of course it'll depend on whether or not Inkheart is a successful movie.

Do you have any ideas for a fourth book in the Inkheart series?
No, at the moment it feels like the story is told after Inkdawn.

Why is Inkheart set along the Italian coast if you live in Germany?
I lived for three months with my daughter and husband in a village in Italy, and I never forgot that. I based the story there, because it's a really believable setting where Capricorn hides in the mountain. 

Who is your favorite Inkheart character? Why do you like writing about that character?
I don't have a favorite in Inkheart. I love most of them very, very much. It's the first time I don't have a favorite — each time I try to pick one, my list just just goes on and on.

What inspired you to start writing books?
I was a bored illustrator. I was so bored with the stories, that one night I decided to write my own story.

What is your favorite book that you wrote?
The whole Inkheart trilogy is my favorite.

What inspired you to write children's books versus adult books?
I think that children are the most enchanting listeners to stories, and with one sentence they build a whole world with it. I always prefer children to be my main audience.

Do you ever write in English?
I worked on a script with a friend of mine, and we wrote in English. But the books I write are always in German.

Do you think you have a bigger fan group in Germany or America?
America is such a vast country, I think the fan base in America is probably really big. But the German fan groups are really huge too.

Are your books inspired by true events or is it just your imagination?
It is never just my imagination. My imagination is fed by true events, and sometimes I steal little details from real events.

Where do you like to do your writing (and is it by computer or by hand)? As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? What do you like to do in your free time?
I write in a little house in my garden. There's a little desk, and a sofa to sink into. There's no phone, no Internet, and on a portable computer I call "Lola." It's a Mac computer. :) I wanted to be an astronaut when I was growing up. I played a lot outside, with the kids on my street. I read PILES of books, watched a lot of movies (that was also a passion of mine), and I drew a lot.

Did you like writing in school?
I did. It might have been a little weird — I was the only one really excited when we had to write essays in the early morning.

How long does it take for you to write one of your books?
For a big book like Inkheart, it takes between a year and a half and three years. 

How long does it take for you to plan a book? Once the book is planned, how long does it take for you to write it?
Normally, I plan the book for about half a year. Doing the research, figuring out the characters, writing the first 20 chapters. Then from that point, it's about 8-10 months, where I polish drafts, writing it again from beginning to end. Normally there are 1-3 drafts of the book.

What is the hardest part of writing a book for you?
I just enjoy every step of it, so actually, there is no hard part for me.

Are the names of characters in your books based on real people?
None of the names, no. Sometimes I base the the characters on actors, or my son, who loves to be in the book. I usually get inspiration for the names from dictionaries or telephone books. The character of Mo was based on actor Brendan Fraser, which is why the book is dedicated to him. I sent him a book when I was finished, and I didn't know him personally at the time. I wrote him a note saying thank you for the inspiration, and he wrote me back! And sent a nice photo of him with his family, and eventually came to visit me in Hamburg, where I was living at the time. He reacted to the book very gratefully. :)

Is there going to be a sequel to The Thief Lord?
No, there won't be. I think the story is told.

Who is your favorite character in The Thief Lord?
My favorite character is Prosper.

How did you get the idea for The Thief Lord?
When I was in Venice with my husband, I suddenly remembered how, when I was a child, all I wanted to be was a grown-up. There are books like Peter Pan, where children want to always stay children, but no books where children want to grow up so quick! So I wrote a book about a kid who passionately wanted to be a grown-up.

How did you think of the book Dragon Rider?
That's a complicated story...A film producer read my first book (in German) and wanted to make that into a TV series or a cartoon. But the first book wasn't long enough, and I didn't want the story to be completely changed. So I started writing a completely new story, with some ideas from my first book. And I loved it so much, I decided it should stay a book — so I bought my movie rights back, and wrote the book.

Will you make a sequel to Dragon Rider?
That may be... I have some thoughts on it, but there are so many stories in my mind, so we'll have to see which stories come up first.

Why did you choose a brownie to be a common companion for a dragon?
In German, it would have been called a "goblin" — but in English, that sounds like a nasty, skinny creature. I have written a book on brownies and I love them as characters, so I decided it would be a nice thing to have them in that book.

Who is your favorite character in Dragon Rider?
That would be Twigleg. It's a just a character that creeped into my heart. He was a traitor first, but he loves the boys so much. And I would very much like to have a homunculus myself.

How did you create such different personalities for Sorrel, Twigleg, Firedrake, and Ben. Is it hard to make sure each character is unique?
I have no idea... they just pop up in my head. They start living and breathing and doing their own things. They end up being very different in every book. I think I have a lucky gift. Sometimes it is hard to make each character unique. You have to remember the characters you have written before, and think about them a lot. If you think about it hard enough, they become unique.

Why can't "The Great Golden Dragon" fly and why did you make him that way?
He's an artificial creature, and he's much too heavy with his armor to fly. I liked the idea that he's a dragon that doesn't hunt the others, and because he was created by man. As you know, man can create rather destructive things.

How many Ghosthunters books are there going to be? Will the characters remain the same?
There will be four books total, and yes, the characters will be the same. But from time to time, there will be new characters popping up.

Do you ever want to write a story that includes space or astronauts, since you wanted to be one when you were little?
I think I would have done that when I was younger. But since I don't want to be an astronaut anymore, I guess that won't happen.

We read on one of your fan sites that you usually do about four drafts of a novel. Why? How do you feel when the editors make you change some of your ideas?
They never really change my ideas. We discuss things, and I don't think there was ever a time where I had to change my fundamental ideas because of an editor. They help you see if there are illogicial points to the story, which sometimes you can't see because you're so deep into it. They help make things clear. My experience is that the more time you put into a book, it gets better. Each time you write it, it becomes more sparkling, more intense — I work on the sentences, the language and the characters. I have the feeling that the books get better each time I do that.

How do you stay organized while writing your books?
I print out each chapter I have rewritten. I put the working sheets on each chapter with notes on what I'd like to put in the drafts. Then they're organized in sets of 10 chapters, since there are so many chapters in the books, like the Ink trilogy. Each time I do a rewrite, there's a new color for each draft. So I know how many drafts I've done for the book. With big books like those, you have to be really organized.

What are the most important things you learn from writing books?
Hm... I think I learned very much about the craft of writing. I think I get better with each book. At least I hope! You learn a lot about yourself, putting your thoughts into words. You learn to think about things more, with more patience and detail.

Do you ever write short stories?
Um... I did in Germany, for some anthologies. But I haven't done it in quite awhile.

If your books hadn't sold, do you think you'd still be illustrating or teaching kids? If you could change parts of your life, what would they be and why?
I don't know... I'm not sure how I would have felt, if I would have felt as passionate. But I never think of "what might have been" — I always look forward. And I wouldn't change anything about my life.

Do you think you'll ever write in another genre, like biographies, etc.?
I don't think so. But you never know as a storyteller what will come next.

Have you always been a writer or did you have another career before this?
I was a social worker for a while, and I was a book illustrator.

Will you ever visit America?
LOL! I live in America right now, in L.A. I moved to L.A. in May last year.

How does your career as a author affect your family life?
I think it's the best possible career to be a book writer with a family! My children are involved in the book process, and help with ideas. They always know what I'm up to. I always try to make sure that I spend time with them when they come home from school, though. And luckily they have given me permission to write in the evening now — they know I'm addicted to writing!

Do you ever write about your family in your books?
I did a picture book about my children called The Wildest Brother. I wrote a book about my daughter in kindergarten, but I made things up for it. But mostly, I don't write about my family.

Do your children write books as well?
No, so far they don't. Although I think my son is a very talented writer.

How do you like it so far in L.A.?
I love, love, love L.A. It's my favorite place in the world right now.

Which do you prefer: reading or writing books?
Oh, that's a very tough choice. I think I would need both. 

Moderator: Anything else you'd like to add?
A message for all kids: I don't think you should be nervous if you still don't know what you want to be by now. You'll figure it out as you get older, and you learn from life. I didn't become a writer until the old age of 28!

  • Subjects:
    Literature Appreciation
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